Authors: Avery Hastings
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It was the
grand pas classique.
She felt it: not as a well-practiced variation but as an emotion, rich and complex, swirling through her. She was lifted; she flew, unfettered. Everywhere she turned, a thousand duplicates turned, too, her image reflected in hundreds of mirrors, spinning endlessly.
The entrechat, the grand jetÃ©. There was one final pirouette, a simple dÃ©nouement. She lifted, her body weight focused on the tips of her toes, her energy channeled into a single column. And thenÂ â¦
Her knee gave, and her whole body became a marionette, flailing.
Suddenly there were faces, everywhere, surrounding her, jeering at her as she fell.
She could tell from their skin and pockmarks and jagged scars. The Imps were laughing. Howling.
Her eyes shot open to a gentle beam of filtered, green-hued sunlight seeping through her shade. Normally, the sunshade eased her into wakefulness, but Davis bolted upright in bed, panting. The shade only used the green filter when it registered Davis's neural transmissionâand anxiety levelsâas abnormal.
The clock in her headboard read 5:00
, which meant she was twenty minutes late.
Davis pulled herself out of bed, reaching for yesterday's workout gear, wrinkly and wadded up in the corner by her bureau. There was no time to root around in her drawers for something clean, and she just had to pray none of the other girls would notice.
She caught a glimpse of her mother dancing across her wall. Her mom's larger-than-life image magnified the brilliance of her perfection as she performed her own flawless
grand pas classique
to a sold-out crowd. Davis swiped a corner of the screen and her mother faded as the screen saver came on: a random slide show of images of Davis and her friends.
Davis tugged rose-hued leg warmers over her black tights and swept her hair into a messy bun. She gave herself a cursory glance in her mirror, allowing it to register her vitals, swiping quickly through the displayed results: hydration levels were in the normal range. Neural transmission, heart rate, and blood pressure were still a little funky but making a steady progression back to optimum. Davis flicked off the mirror feed and slipped out the door, pausing only to kiss her mom's Olympiad medal on her way.
Davis headed for the kitchen, pausing briefly in front of Sofia's room. A beam of light stretched from underneath her little sister's door, causing Davis's figure to cast eerie shadows on the walls. Sofia was always leaving the light on after reading late. Davis pushed the door open soundlessly and padded into Sofia's yellow-and-orange-spackled fortress, which was digitally painted across every inch of the floor-to-ceiling, touch-screen walls. Fia's latest work in progress was displayed: a vibrant self-portrait.
Fia's dark curlsâinherited from Terri, but even more striking than Terri's when contrasted against Fia's lighter skinâwere illuminated by the headboard lamp. A paperback lay open on her chest. Davis reached for it and Fia stirred, but her breathing pattern continued uninterrupted. Davis glanced at the cover and couldn't help smiling.
A Brief History of Nearly Everything.
It was a classic their dad had lovedÂ â¦ as a teenager. Fia had stolen it from the glass cabinet where the collectibles were kept. As a print book and a first edition, it was extremely rare and very valuableâor at least it had been valuable before Fia had gotten her hands on it. She was only eleven and had already read it countless times. Fia always insisted that dog-earing a page gave it character. It was the reason she even bothered reading her dad's ancient paper editions despite their funky smells and brittle textures, like leaves on the verge of disintegrating.
Davis leaned over her sister, brushing her cheek with a light kiss so as not to wake her. Then she flipped off the lamp with a quick swipe of her finger and padded softly from the room, securing the door behind her.
She stopped in the kitchen to grab some fruit and a protein shake.
“Sweetie, what are you doing?” Her stepmother appeared in the doorway, her thin figure complemented by her silk robe, and her skin radiantânot a trace of puffy eyes or dark circles, even though Davis was sure she'd just woken up. Terri's coarse black hair tumbled over her shoulder in long, thick waves; her dark lashes were always bold and upswept, even then, so long they hit the base of her brow line. Her cheeks wore a healthy flush against the natural chocolate hue of her skin. But her most notable features were her big, sympathetic eyes. She was beautiful, but it was her kindness that set her apart, illuminating her entire expression.
“Class,” Davis answered. It came out a little stiffer than she'd intended.
“Class? Butâ” Terri interrupted herself, staring at Davis with concern. “It's Kensington Day, sweetie. There is no ballet.”
Davis had forgotten.
“I know,” she said anyway. “More time to practice.” The second she said it, she was glad it was true. While she knew she could always get in a small workout at her building's gym, she preferred the sanctity of the dance studioâit always improved her mood. And since it was a holiday, she'd probably have the space all to herself.
Barr Kensington was a national hero, and the man responsible for a better, more perfect human. Kensington had pioneered all the in-utero optimization: Mozart and Brahms piped directly into the womb, math lessons, linguistics practice. He had engineered superior humans. He had
the Priorsâmade Davis, and everyone like her.
Thanks to Kensington, every portion of Davis's brain was more developed than it would have been otherwise. Diseases like AIDS and malaria that wiped out entire populations hundreds of years ago would never affect her today, even if she were somehow exposed.
But Kensington had been more than a scientist. He had also been one of the most renowned politicians of his generation; her dad had a copper bust of him in his study. It had been nearly seventy-five years since Kensington's death in 2062, but his political agendas were stronger than ever among conservatives like her father. Davis's father had told her horror stories of what the city had been like back when the Imps were fully integrated. Crimeârapes, shootings, theftâwas through the roof until Kensington started pushing segregation.
If it weren't for Kensington, the city of Columbus might never have survived and endured all the instability that caused dozens of major citiesâChicago, Los Angeles, portions of New York that still existed after the floodsâto crumble, leaving most of the country uninhabitable. Every aspect of her lifeâthe city she called homeâwas safer and better.
And soon, as long as her father defeated Parson Abel for city prime minister, steps toward total segregation and an even more ideal Columbus would be implemented. Columbus was truly becoming the perfect place to live.
“Why don't I wrap you up a vitamuffin for the road then,” Terri offered, breaking Davis's reverie. She moved farther into the kitchen and patted Davis on the shoulder as she passed. Davis leaned into Terri's touch instinctively before she remembered herself.
“No. Really.” Davis turned from Terri, rummaging in the fruit bowl on the table. “Thanks, though.” Terri's offer warmed herâshe was always so sweet and thoughtful. Still, something in Davis resisted.
“Well, how about an enhancer? I was just about to make one for myselfâ”
“I'm fine,” Davis said, grabbing a banana from the basket by the fridge. “I promise.” She gave Terri a perfunctory kiss on her cheek, trying to ignore the disappointment in her stepmom's dark eyes. Davis hesitated when she reached the door to the apartment, turning back at the last second. She could just leave. OrÂ â¦
“Terri?” she called back.
“Yes, sweetie?” Terri's voice was soft, hopeful.
“Maybe you could make me one of your revitalizers when I get back from dance? I'll probably need a pick-me-up. If you aren't too busy, I mean.”
“I'd love to.”
Davis could tell she meant it.
The elevator descended quickly from their fifty-second-floor apartment. Davis opted to walk the few short blocks to the monorail; her dad had specifically forbidden her to use the car after she and Vera had drunkenly reprogrammed the nav system. She passed through the turnstile marked
at the uptown monorail, pausing briefly for her P-card to register, then stopped at a kiosk and entered her destination via DirecTalk. The monorail was brightly lit and full of security like it always was. Several officers nodded hello to her, and Davis returned their greeting. Were there more police than usual? It seemed that security had been tightening, maybe because of the election. She felt a flash of worry.
she assured herself.
Everything will be okay.
She heard laughter behind her and looked over her shoulder from where she stood on the monorail platform, waiting for the train to arrive.
Several officers were clustered around a girl wearing the wide armband of an Imp. They were patting her down, three of them at once running their hands over her body in an elaborate search effort. She watched as the girl wriggled away from the men's grasp; then another guard grabbed her arms, pinning them behind her back, his laughter ringing through the air as his colleagues prodded her with their guns and touched her body in places Davis was sure weren't necessary for a normal pat-down. Davis saw them run the standard test for antibodies: a series of halogen lights swept across the girl's slender frame.
Maybe there was a reason for itâthe girl must have been sick or hiding something. Still, the girl's humiliation and fear were palpable. No one should have to feel that way. Davis had never known what it was like to be patted down like thatâit looked awful, and her chest constricted instinctively as she watched.
A Prior monorail car labeled with Davis's destination and already carrying several passengers pulled up and she stepped inside, turning just as the officers let the Imp girl go. The Imp caught Davis's eye through the train window as she hurried to her own Imp car. She looked furiousâmaybe close to tears. Davis looked away, feeling embarrassed without knowing why. Part of her almost wanted to call out, to say,
I've suffered, too; I've lived my whole life without my mom,
but the girl would have thought she was crazy; and anyway, sadness and suffering don't alleviate more sadness and suffering. Davis sighed, focusing on the sparkling beauty of the buildings rising up outside her car window. The sky was a startling blue in contrastâso pure its beauty almost took her breath away. If only everything could be so beautiful. If only there were no suffering, no humiliation, no deathâfor anyone, Imp or Prior.